The European Union External Action Service was forced to issue a statement recently regarding the trial of Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng. In general the European Union has remained silent on China’s human rights abuses but on this occasion, so close to the Tiananmen Square 30th anniversary, the EU decided to speak out. Their statement asserted that in order to strengthen the rule of law, as the Chinese government has declared they will, “the Chinese authorities should abide by China’s international law obligations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and respect the rights of all citizens as guaranteed by China’s Constitution.”
Mr Yu Wensheng is a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who has continually defended human rights and promoted the rule of law in China. Yu has represented human rights activists and lawyers and has now had to face an inquisition held behind closed doors. His trail took place on May 9th at the Intermediate People’s Court of Xuzhou City.
The EU Spokesperson said “The defendant’s rights under China’s Criminal Procedure Law and international law obligations to a fair trial, without undue delay, and to proper defence and access to a lawyer of his own choice, have not been respected.” It is understood that the date of his trial was not publicly announced in a timely way, nor were his family or appointed lawyer able to attend his trial.
In early April of this year, the EU -China Human Rights Dialogue was held in Brussels. Ahead of the meeting several human rights organisations wrote to EU leaders urging them to prioritise human rights issues in all their dialogues with China. The Chinese delegation refused to have an exchange of views with civil society included as part of the dialogue. This has distinctly demonstrated their unwillingness to genuinely engage in addressing the human rights concerns of the international community.
Whilst the joint statement issued after the meeting expressed that the European Union insisted on the universality of human rights and highlighted the deteriorating situation of civil and political rights in China, it contained no recommendations to implement any sanctions against China’s behaviour.
Almost at the same time, the European Parliament did take action and adopted a resolution regarding the increasing repression faced by many ethnic and religious so-called “minorities” in China, in particular Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong, Kazakhs and Christians. Among issues raised, it called on China to close the so-called “political re-education camps” in Xinjiang (known to Uyghurs as East Turkestan) and to “uphold the linguistic, cultural, religious and other fundamental freedoms of Tibetans.”
Regarding Tibet the resolution expressed concern that “China’s criminal law is being abused to persecute Tibetans and Buddhists, whose religious activities are equated with ‘separatism.’” The resolution condemns China’s “patriotic education” campaigns, including interferences in the management of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and asks the Chinese authorities to refrain from forcing Tibetan nomads to abandon their traditions.
European Parliamentarians also urged China to immediately release Tibetans detained solely for having exercised their right to freedom of expression and reiterated their call for unhindered access to Tibet for EU citizens. During the debate ahead of the adoption of the resolution, many members of the European Parliament highlighted the importance of standing up to China’s gross human rights violations. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini stated that the EU’s should call on China “to allow reciprocal access to Tibet for European journalists, diplomats, and families”. In closing, the EU Spokesperson of the European External Action Service, expressed that the EU expected the “immediate release of Yu Wensheng, as well as other detained and convicted human rights defenders and lawyers including Wang Quanzhang, Qin Yongmin, Gao Zhisheng, Ilham Tohti, Huang Qi, Tashi Wangchuk, Li Yuhan, Wu Gan and Liu Feiyue.” However, with over 1 million Uyghurs and others interned in Chinese camps, and hundreds of religious minorities and human rights activists imprisoned across China, often without trial or legal counsel to defend them, it is impossible for the European Union to list all the individuals persecuted by China. It is time for the international community to speak with one voice and impose sanctions until China abides by international laws as well as its own constitutional laws thus protecting the rights of all citizens.